• Martha Bebinger

    Thanks Nicholas – lots of great stuff here. What I still want to figure out is, if slots are addictive, should the state regulate them as it does tobacco or drugs?

    • Nick_Nehamas

      That’s a great question, Martha, and a difficult one to answer. Slots are certainly addictive, and the social costs of problem gambling are high. Moreover, the industry makes a good deal of its money on problem gamblers. in some sense, blackjack and roulette tables are just the “window-dressing” for the slots, where the real cash comes from.

      But, as Australia has discovered, finding workable and effective regulations isn’t easy. And the gambling industry will fight back tooth-and-nail.

      One sensible reform would be to make sure that Australian-style machines (ones where you can bet–and lose–a lot of money very quickly) aren’t allowed into the US. These are the big money-makers for casinos and the big money-losers for patrons. Here’s an opinion piece from the Sydney Morning Herald that deals with the distinction between these “high-impact” machines and the “low-impact” models on which you can’t bet as much money: http://www.smh.com.au/business/even-americans-shun-our-addictive-pokies-20110929-1kzfo.html

      And here’s a long but good read from a Philly paper on Pennsylvania’s decision to bring in slots: http://archives.citypaper.net/articles/2009/01/08/foxwoods-sugarhouse-pennsylvania-gaming-control-board

      I’d be curious to hear your thoughts, Martha. What side are you leaning towards? Regulating slots or letting them be?

  • Tom Stites

    When legalized gambling in the U.S. escaped from Las Vegas, and state after state started lotteries, much of the political debate was grounded in moral questions. Morality has all but disappeared from the discourse, but moral questions remain.

    Essentially, lotteries and slot machines are taxes on people who don’t understand probability. This is most people, but the impact is greatest on the poor, desperate and addicted — and thus gambling is a deeply regressive, as well as deceptive, tax. State government officials frame gambling in terms of helping schools and local governments, but for the most part what they’re really doing is preying on the powerless because it’s easier than summoning the political courage to raise revenue from people with more political clout. We’re the citizens of these states, so this is being done in our name. This galls me.

    So: In Australia, and elsewhere in the world, is morality part of the political discourse about gambling? Are there religious voices in opposition?

    • Nick_Nehamas

      Thanks for the comment, Tom. Morality is still very much on the table in Australia. One of the major anti-gambling groups there is UnitingCare Australia, which is organized by the Uniting Church of Australia (a union of the Congregationalist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches), the country’s third largest: http://www.unitingcare.org.au/

      They’ve formed a task force on gambling with other churches. You can read more here: http://gamblingreform.org/

      How would you go about regulating slots?

      • Stephanie Holt

        Excellent point, Nick. Though the link with these churches these days is perhaps less about gambling itself being immoral (we Australians have generally had a cheerful tolerance for ‘traditional’ gambling) as a Christian concern for the welfare of the least fortunate, and the reality that church-based welfare and charitable services are often the frontline in repairing the damage wrought by problem gambling.

        • Nick_Nehamas

          thanks for the clarification, Stephanie. Yes, every Australian I’ve talked to has made sure to emphasize how important gambling is to their culture. Traditionally, it’s a very social and widely accepted activity. but as you say morality does come into the picture when club/casino gambling becomes a “predatory” phenomenon

    • Nick_Nehamas

      Hi Tom,

      Just wanted to add that last week I attended a panel on gambling hosted by the Boston Globe. The discussion was interesting but revolved completely around taxes, revenues, jobs, traffic, crime etc. This despite the presence of a Catholic priest and a No Casino in Suffolk Downs activist on the panel. Gambling addiction came up very briefly at the end and predatory gambling was not mentioned once.

      As it struggles in the wake of the recession, Massachusetts is looking at these casinos almost exclusively as a tool for revenue creation. Opponents, meanwhile, tend to be locally based neighborhood activists worried about increased crime, drunk driving, drugs, prostitution. This speaks to your point about morality being off the table in discussions about gambling.There are exceptions however. Here’s a story from a local paper on clergy members who opposed the casino in Foxboro: http://www.foxbororeporter.com/articles/2012/01/20/news/10834208.txt



  • Susan Glimcher

    You raise and address a lot of complex and interesting issues, Nick. I think usually in these situations regulation works better than prohibition (the most notorious example I suppose being “Prohibition”!). I think it is extremely innovative, and takes full advantage of the interactive possibilities of the Internet in a way I haven’t seen in other online publications, to ask your readers for their thoughts and ideas – not just a blog but a true many-sided in depth discussion.

    • mariabalinska

      Hi Susan
      Thanks very much for your comment. Banning gambling isn’t terribly effective. Last year the Chinese lifted a 60 year ban on horse racing although you can’t bet on the horses – you have to go to Macau or Hong Kong to do that!
      Glad you like our interactive approach. Let us know what interests you in our other pieces too.

  • Stephanie Holt

    Pre-commitment might offer a way to leave decision-making with the gambler while mitigating the effects of a machine/environment that (as the gambling industry is well aware) is designed precisely to override rational decision-making.

    As more and more pokies licenses are granted in states like my home state (Victoria), which for many years had none, their potential to be an income stream to sustain things like local pubs and community-based sports and social clubs seems to have been massively overstated, often with sad results not only for the gamblers but for the organisations and communities that were supposed to be beneficiaries.

    For a light-hearted look at some of those issues, have a look at the 2002 Australian film “Crackerjack”, that looks at the efforts to revive a declining local lawn bowls club while resisting the incursion of pokies. (I used to bowl at the club used as a location. They introduced pokies at one point, but I believe they’ve since been abandoned – certainly the club has worked hard to develop many new – and much more socially responsible and valuable – ways to remain a viable community asset.)